Bassem Abu Rahmeh and the Killing in Bil’in

21 04 2009

 

Basem Abu Rahme - Palestine Monitor

Bassem Abu Rahmeh - Palestine Monitor

A moment of silence needs to be given to all those protesters who fight for peace and freedom and die doing so.

Bassem Abu Rahmeh deserves more than just a moment. He’s been in the news lately because he was killed by a tear-gas canister thrown by Israeli soldiers that left a hole in his chest (I’m not exaggerating). He died in the car, halfway to Ramallah Hospital.

What was Bassem doing, you may ask? He was protesting in Bil’in against the separation wall that Israel has built years ago, effectively cutting villages from a large portion of farmland. He is actually a resident of Bil’in.

These are weekly demonstrations organized by a brave group of young men and women, Israelis and Palestinians, called Anarchists Against The Wall (AATW). No one can deny their courage and persistence. I have met one of the organizers and protesters during his fundraising trip to the U.S.; a nervous and quiet young man called Nir Harel. Although he did not seem like a natural speaker, his silence said more than his words; and his beliefs do more than his speeches.

In the YouTube video (you need to be more than 18 years old to view it) you see Bassem yelling at Israeli soldiers on the other side of the fence who had already started throwing the canisters. AATW reported that he was saying, in Hebrew, “we are in a nonviolent protest, there are kids and internationals…” I cannot verify that of course because I don’t speak Hebrew.

You see some of the protestors later going to talk to those Israeli soldiers. They have an argument. The Israeli soldiers walk away and then throw some more tear-gas canisters; so nonchalantly, so casually.

 

My view is perhaps already apparent through these paragraphs. This is cold-blooded murder; another murder that will go unpunished in Israel.

However, if my view is considered biased because I’m an Arab and a Muslim, I suggest reading Alex Stein’s comments. I have mentioned Stein in a previous post. He is a libertarian Israeli, with much to say. From his personal experience, soldiers are clearly warned that this is a lethal weapon that could kill.

LB, a blogger on Occidental Israeli, argued under this same post that stones are also a lethal weapon that could kill. Point taken, if they are 20-30kg hailed from high points. I have heard this from my Israeli professor in Modern Israel class. Like many other Israeli and pro-Israel bloggers, however, he seems to have completely brushed off the incident. More details needed, he said.

Bassem deserves the acknowledgement that he was killed by Israeli soldiers; that he was murdered, with or without details. The inhumanity of some of these comments is beyond disturbing. I doubt that LB would need more details for the death of a settler in the West Bank.

 

One note:

I have included a picture of Bassem because people often forget that it’s a human who has died in these situations, and mind you, not a violent human in this case.

We can become immune to these killings, and a human face to death and suffering might wake those of us who are asleep.

To those who want to deny Bassem his right for mourning, regardez-le.

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Some Women News

14 04 2009

 

My own sense of sarcasm

 

I’ve read quite a few articles recently relating to women. I decided to get you in the loop with me. Here’s a light list:

1.     Journalist Iqbal Tamimi writes about Gaza’s women soccer team. A light-hearted piece; not your usual bombs and rubbles.

2.     A British girl and a South African girl combine forces to set up a cupcake business in Israel, a trend that is not yet sweeping in the country. I’m a BIG cupcake fan. I hope this spreads to the Arab countries around and enlighten people with some dessert bless.

3.     The long-awaited news from Laila El-Haddad and her ordeal at Cairo Airport and the Rafah Crossing is finally up on the web, in a long and detailed post. One beautifully and eloquently written paragraph captured my attention. Here’s what Laila writes about the Palestinian Authority “passport,”

        “It is a passport that allows no passage. A passport that denied me entry to my own home. This is its purpose: to mark me, brand me, so that I am easily identified and cast aside without questions; it is convenient for those giving the orders. It is a system for the collective identification of those with no identity.

4.     As marriage age gets higher in Israel, matchmakers face new challenges. This is an enjoyable story, hits home in a way. It combines a Middle-Eastern mentality and worried Jewish mothers, with Western more career-driven, and perhaps pickier young thinking. You’ll get a chuckle out of it. If not, you’ll at least find it entertaining.

5.     Rihab Al-Hazin dies in “honor killing” in the West Bank, in what the news characterizes as a rising trend. This is the kind of news that horrifies me, and almost every girl and woman out there.





Feminine Police

8 04 2009

 

Palestinian policewomen - daylife.com, Associated Press

Palestinian policewomen - daylife.com, Associated Press

 

A few days ago, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, published an article from the Associated Press marking the first graduating class of women from the two-year-old Palestinian military academy.

All 16 of them, young, some wearing the Muslim headscarf, the hijab, marched alongside 148 men and are now an integral part (hopefully) of the Palestinian police.

The AP reported that these women go through the same training as men. One of them, Rwaida Rabaya, had been in an Israeli prison for two years for her affiliation with a militant group. This move, she said, was the “peaceful” way to defend her land.

Another woman, 24-year-old Farah Salman, hinted at a new phase of feminism within the Palestinian society.

“Society is still not accepting of the idea of a woman working in the security apparatuses,” she said. But well, she’s breaking the rules now.

The problem, another woman said, was finding the right clothes that fit. The PA clearly has no precedent in this.

This comes only shortly after the appointment of two female judges in the Palestinian Islamic court: Khuloud Faqih, 34, and Asmahan Wuheidi, 31. The Jerusalem Post and other news sources reported on this. Only Sudan has female judges out of all the Arab countries, including the “progressive” ones like Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon.

Women contribution in the Palestinian society remains small. There is no dispute about that. It is great, however, to see these news. This may not only affect the overall image, but will also hopefully begin to change the perception of women’s role in the Palestinian territories, and even across the Arab and Muslim worlds.

These women will, undoubtedly, face some resistance from their colleagues and people. We have yet to know their exact impact, whether for good or bad. Either way, there’s got to be a first time in everything.





Palestinians & Israelis Getting Real

29 03 2009

 

Big Brother Logo

Big Brother

Interesting news surfaced a couple of days ago on the Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, online. Arab-French director, Mohammad Waled, and French-Israeli friend Sophie Norman, have come up with a reality show idea, where 12 young Israelis and Palestinians live together in a French villa, getting their lives and debates on air.

You can read the article here.

The reality show, resembling “Big Brother,” will film 10 episodes, 26-minutes each. The cameras will follow their daily activities, paying close attention to their debates. The director hopes that by the end of it all, this group of 18-year-olds will reach conclusions that their fathers and grandfathers could not reach.

Hopeful, right?

It is quite an intriguing idea. I suspect there will be many debates, heated, perhaps censored ones, as soon as the Israelis and Palestinians get used to each other. The director realizes that it is “symbolic,” but we have yet to see how it turns out. The article does not mention which channels it would be aired on, or if Palestinians will have easy access to watching the show. After all, we want both sides to see this.

The commentators on Yedioth online do not seem that hopeful. Many dismiss it as a marketing and publicity show. Others seem to believe that there could be no conversation with the Arabs. The Lebanese Al-Akbar newspaper has published a piece about this earlier in February. You can read the Arabic version here. I have found an English version here.

Not many people seem to be excited about this. Either way, it is something to watch and learn from. It is something new that deserves a good benefit of the doubt.





Strings of Freedom Disbanded

29 03 2009

 

Strings of Freedom - AP

Strings of Freedom - AP

I suppose that the international hype over a Palestinian youth orchestra performing for Holocaust survivors last Wednesday was not matched by Palestinian enthusiasm.

On March 25th, a group of 13 young musicians from the Jenin Refugee Camps in the West Bank performed for Holocaust survivors in the Israeli city of Holon. It was part of the annual “Good Deeds Day” celebration. See my post “Yes, We Can Do It Through Art.”

A friend alerted me to a follow-up article in the New York Times, about anger among Palestinians in Jenin over this “exploitation” of children. The anger was strong enough to disband the group, and ban the conductor, Arab-Israeli Wafa Younis, from the camp and the apartment where she taught.

News sources report that Holocaust denial is common among Palestinians. The anger here, stems from the idea that performing for Holocaust survivors represents an acknowledgment that undermines Palestinians’ own plight caused by Israel.

This is idiotic chaos.

People seem to be competing over who suffered more; who has more right to be acknowledged. It was a musical performance. The point was to bring people together through music, not politics. Those Holocaust survivors must have learned something about the Jenin Refugee Camps and the harsh life in it, and those young Palestinians must have learned something about the suffering of Jews and those who survived it.

The real victims here are the young students who gave much of their time and passion to Strings of Freedom. The Palestinians have effectively punished their own.

We need more brave acts like that of Wafa Younis and the Holocaust Survivor Center organizers. Acknowledging and sympathizing with the Jews who have suffered DOES NOT negate or undermine the suffering of Palestinians. It is NOT an either-or situation.





Jenin and the Theater

28 03 2009

 

Animal Farm plays in Jenin

Animal Farm plays in Jenin - BBC

I realize that I’ve written quite a few posts about the arts lately, focusing a little less on politics. But there has been a wave of news about art-related events and I get a little too excited when I hear about a photography project, or a music performance, or this time, a play. So get excited with me!

The Freedom Theatre in Jenin, West Bank, opened its doors this week to a new student version of Goerge Orwell’s novel, Animal Farm. The BBC reported this, the AP reviewed it. Many people seem to be hyped up about it.

Here’s why.

Animal Farm was first published in 1945 as a satire against Russia’s Stalin era. In the story, animals rebel against the farm owner, kicking him out eventually and setting up a community where everyone has equal rights. Later, their utopia collapses due to their own corruption and greed.

In this Palestinian play, the word “intifada” is used for revolution (Arabic for uprising). The play director, Nabil al-Raee, and the theater’s director, Juliano Mer-Khamis, keep the original satirical edge, hinting at the Territories’ own corrupt leadership and the society’s restrictions against freedom of thought.  

“To be free is to be able to criticise,” said Mer-Khamis to the BBC. “To be free is to be able to express yourself freely. To be free is to be free first of all of the chains of tradition, religion, nationalism – in a dark way I mean.”

It is always refreshing to see critics from within the society, not from the outside. Despite threats and a burnt theater door, this play performed safely. The fact that it is getting this much publicity is beyond satisfying.

Again I say, when politics fail, we must pave the way for the arts.

A silly thought crossed my mind, however. I wondered how the Muslim audience received the pig characters of the play, knowing that pigs are considered quite filthy, rather than cute, in Islam. What would you think?





Yes, We Can Do It Through Art

25 03 2009

 

Strings of Freedom Performs for Holocaust Survivors - Associated Press

Strings of Freedom Performs for Holocaust Survivors - Associated Press

From the famous Jenin Refugee Camps in the West Bank, 13 Palestinian teenagers rode a bus to the Israeli city of Holon, to sing and play music for Holocaust survivors.

As part of the annual “Good Deeds Day” celebration, where Israelis are encouraged to do positive social actions, the Holocaust Survivor Center had invited this young “Strings of Freedom” orchestra to perform. Neither side had known much about each other, and that was the real true beauty of an event like this.

You can read the AP article here.

Imagine for a second the scene in that room. Imagine the two sides: Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims and Jews, young and old, performers and listeners. Could there have been a bigger rift? The musicians and their audience must have been a world apart. Yet, music was played and applause was heard. Later, some mingled and took photos with each other.

Don’t mistake me for an arts fanatic. I am an amateur in the creative world. But when politics fail, as I mention in my previous post, art becomes a savior, healing wounds and bringing people together in a way that politics can never do.

My most favorite quote in this article comes from an 18-year-old keyboard player called Ali Zaid. He said:

“Only people who have been through suffering understand each other.”

 Simple words. Wise words. Artistic words.